General manager of Four Seasons Langkawi, David Macklin, talks about the importance of self-care, his ability to meditate while brushing his teeth, becoming a better person, and a few of his happy places on the island
words & photography KARMAN TSE
“I was born in England. When I was two, we moved to Australia as a family. Six years later, my parents decided to move back to England. When I was 10, we moved again, back to Australia, and when I was 23, as an adult, I decided to return to England. For the last 25 years, I’ve been travelling around, living in many different countries. But home is Australia. I call myself an Australian. My wife is from Japan. We have two teenaged children, both of them born in Washington, D.C. I have been with the Four Seasons for nearly two decades. It began in Hong Kong, and then Washington D.C for about five-and-a-half years, followed by Tokyo, Sydney, Vietnam, and now Langkawi.”
What comes to mind when you hear the word “self-care”?
David: What comes to mind first is my health, because if I’m not healthy, strong and able, I cannot support the three most important people in my life. This is why I started exercising when I was 37, after nearly 20 years of no exercise. I want a healthy heart. I don’t smoke, I enjoy eating healthy, and I take part in Ironman triathlons. So, that’s what I think about — take care of me so I can take care for others. At the resort, too, I am responsible for every single person, so I need to ensure that I am able — mentally and physically — to do so.
To take care of your body, you exercise and eat well, which is great. How do you take care of your mental wellbeing?
David: I like the way that Buddhists think. I enjoy meditation (I have a crystal singing bowl that I use when I meditate at home, and it just takes me to this different world), and I enjoy finding Inner David. I have “David days”, which means I spend the whole day doing things just for me. I used to feel guilty about this, but now I know that this makes me feel better the next day, that I will perform at the peak.
I also believe you are what you eat. If you eat unhealthily, you become unhealthy, and your mind becomes unhealthy. If you have a greasy, oily meal, you’re very sluggish afterwards. If you constantly do that, that becomes your lifestyle. So I choose not to eat junk food. Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza and all that but everything in moderation. That’s what I think life is about: Enjoy life, but everything in moderation.
“I have ‘David days’, which means I spend the whole day doing things just for me. I used to feel guilty about this, but now I know that this makes me feel better the next day, that I will perform at the peak.”
On “David days”, do you like to read? What’s on your to-read list?
David: I love to read, I love to learn. I think life is about continuously learning. One of my hobbies, other than exercising and motorcycles, is investments, so I love to read about investments and how to grow my portfolio.
I also like to read about becoming a better person. One book I’ve read is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, which is so true in life. Constantly with my work and personal life, I’m evaluating what I’m doing to get to my next goal in life and where I want to go next. I enjoy reading Thich Nhat Hanh, about his way of thinking. That’s why I started to do a lot of meditation when I was in Vietnam. It’s absolutely inspirational. There’s a movie on him called Walk With Me. It’s about learning how to meditate. You must watch it since you’re into meditation, too.
In Nam Hai, Vietnam, we’ve asked the monks from the monasteries to come to the Four Seasons, and we did a whole day of meditation from 6am to 3pm. Unbelievable! You learn sitting, lying, eating, and walking meditation, and the whole philosophy of how you can meditate when you are doing these things. The monks asked me the next day if I meditate and how. I said one of the ways I meditate is when I’m brushing my teeth. It’s something I do everyday.
But yeah, walking meditation is amazing. I practise this on the beach. When you walk on the
beach, if you just walk, you go from point A to B. But if you focus on your feet and on the sound — you’re scrunching the sand, and you think about sand, and you think about what’s in the sand… it’s the most amazing experience. You can spend 20 minutes on the beach and feel like a completely different person if you meditated rather than spending an hour just walking.
That’s mindfulness and being present.
David: Yes. If we just slow down and listen, and think, and give meaning to every single thing, it’s the most amazing experience. I once thought: How can these people give up everything — their homes, their wealth and live without phones, without bills, without everything? I absolutely understand now and I’m a little envious of them in many ways because they have this inner peace. They actually have so much more than the person who drives around in a Ferrari. That’s why my time in Vietnam and meeting the monks was so memorable.
So, how can we be better people? What have you learned so far?
David: Treat others how you want to be treated. This is extremely important in my life because I want people to be happy. I want to be happy, and to make me happy is to make other people happy. This is in my family, in my work and it’s in the DNA of the Four Seasons as well.
“If we just SLOW DOWN and LISTEN, and think, and give meaning to every single thing, it’s the most amazing experience. I once thought: How can these people give up everything — their homes, their WEALTH and live without phones, without bills, without everything? I absolutely understand now and I’m a little envious of them in many ways because they have this INNER PEACE. They actually have so much more than the person who drives around in a Ferrari.”
What kind of traveller are you?
David: I’m two types of traveller. There is a David-by-himself traveller: I love being outdoors, love being very rustic in the open. I’ve travelled on my bicycle with my tent on the back with my little camp stove. I can be away for a week by myself without speaking to anyone, I love it. I get energy from that.The second type is with my wife. She loves to stay at the Four Seasons — she loves the fine details, dining and great restaurants. I enjoy the two completely different ways of travelling.
I love the Four Seasons, too. But I must admit I have never been to Langkawi…
David: Really? We will change that very soon.
We shall. Maybe you can start by telling me about Langkawi. Where are your favourite places to eat and have a drink?
David: Yes, absolutely. The best location to have a glass of wine is at the Rhu Bar in the resort. At dusk, around 7pm to 7.30pm, the sun goes down and it creates this amazing orange sunset nearly everyday. I swear it is absolutely beautiful. When I first arrived for the first couple of weeks, I’d send my wife photos nearly every night of the beautiful sunset until she said, “David, I’ve had enough. I know you’ve got this beautiful sunset.” But it is absolutely stunning! It has different colours: Purple, orange, red… Sitting there with a glass of wine or champagne, watching the sun go down, it’s amazing.
For the best local-style, Malaysian food, I love our Ikan Ikan restaurant. The food is extremely fresh. The local fisherman delivers the seafood to the beach 30 metres in front of the restaurant. Our chef goes out and collects the live fish and puts it straight into our fish tank. That’s what we serve at night.
For local restaurants, I have two favourites. One is called Wonderland, which is extremely local, and the other, Yong Leong, a Chinese restaurant. Their Malay-Chinese food is fantastic. I normally sit on the other side of the street on the pavement and they bring it to me.
Massages are an important and very healing aspect of my self-care. Where would you recommend I go in Langkawi?
David: There’s only one place. It’s called The Geo Spa. Geo means “earth”. We have a wide range of treatments. A complimentary consultation is available to all our guests so we can really find out what type of treatment would best suit them. We try to create a whole experience for every guest — this is where you come to relax and have time to yourself.
I had this treatment over the weekend, which was not so much about a massage for my muscles but more about connecting to the earth via the therapist. I just felt so calm, so connected afterwards. It gave me goosebumps. I was just floating when I left.
OK, when do I check in?
David: You tell me!
The resort’s tagline is “A jungle-cloaked island retreat in a UNESCO Geopark”, I imagine it must be a paradise for nature lovers and hikers. Do you hike?
David: Absolutely. There’s a mountain directly behind the resort. It’s called Tanjung Rhu. You get to overlook the resort and the whole Tanjung Rhu peninsula. It’s absolutely fantastic. We organise hikes and we can actually escort guests up there. It’s less than an hour, so it’s not strenuous and it’s spectacular when you get there. There’s also the Gunung Raya, which is the tallest mountain in Langkawi. You could also hike up there.
How’s the weather in Langkawi?
David: It’s fantastic. Our peak season is from November through to June/July. And then you have a couple of months, just like many Asian countries, where there is chance of rain. But from the festive period all the way through to the middle of the year, it’s absolutely fantastic. It doesn’t get too hot — mid 30 degrees. It’s always very pleasant here.
What are three essential things I should pack?
David: A bikini, sunscreen and a hat. But of course, you can buy all that at the resort. So, basically, the only thing you need to pack is your passport.